This My Hero Academia review contains spoilers.
My Hero Academia Episode 20
“The fight has just begun and Izuku Midoriya is completely frozen!”
Super strong characters on shows like My Hero Academia, or really any shonen-type anime, are such a regular occurrence that the series reaches a point where strength alone just isn’t enough anymore. A battle between two highly powered individuals is always going to be entertaining on some level, but it’s exciting when fights can involve more of a strategy than “dodge and attack.”
A show like My Hero Academia should never feel like a glorified boxing match and while the series is good with finding ways to be (extremely) creative to avoid this problem, they should still err on the side of unconventional strategies to overcome their obstacles. Make no mistake, the end of the Sports Festival will definitely greatly involve strength and experience to determine the winner, but “Victory or Defeat” presents a refreshing battle that is memorable due to its unique, internal nature.
Great shonen-style anime like this, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, One Piece or even Dragon Ball will occasionally feature episodes that just focus on an unusual power that flummoxes the heroes. These individuals may not be the most physically threatening opponents that have been faced, but it will still take the duration of the episode to crack the mystery behind their abilities. My Hero Academia has indulged in this idea in minor doses in the past, but “Victory or Defeat” really embraces this concept as it sees Midoriya trapped in the powers of Hitoshi Shinso’s quirk for the bulk of the episode.
Picking up where the previous installment left off, Midoriya falls right into Shinso’s trap and he begins his first fight in the finals of the Sports Festival at a terrible disadvantage. It looks like the battle may be over before it ever really begins, but thankfully Midoriya is eventually able to regain the most partial control of his body. Ojiro, a previous victim to Shinso’s quirk, tries to warn him about how Shinso’s quirk operates and how he fell prey to the same trap, but he’s too late. If you answer one of Shinso’s questions, he gains the ability to brainwash you.
“Victory or Defeat” also connects some dots and provides a rather brilliant reason for why such a strong character has been relatively unknown until now. Everyone underestimates Shinso because the entrance exam used robots as their villains, whereas Shinso’s quirk requires real people for manipulation. This had Shinso largely disadvantaged, but he also flew under the radar as a result. If he had a more momentous introduction, everyone would be aware of his brainwashing quirk and Midoriya wouldn’t struggle here. My Hero Academia doesn’t need to provide a reason for why Shinso hasn’t properly gotten his due, but the due diligence is appreciated.
Due to Shinso’s immense quirk, his “fight” with Midoriya comes down to him telling his opponent to walk out of bounds and disqualify himself. The simplicity of this is wonderful and it’s amazing to watch everyone freak out as Midoriya moves himself closer to defeat, one step after another. The whole encounter technically transpires over Midoriya’s thirty or so steps towards the ring’s boundary, as his brain works in overdrive and he tries to figure out what to do here.
Accordingly, a lot of this showdown takes place in Midoriya’s head as he tries to escape Shinso’s hold over him. This makes for an exciting structure for an episode and establishes a clear goal that Midoriya must overcome to be able to win this battle.
Shinso’s brainwashing quirk ultimately comes down to the strength of spirit and passion within the victim. They need to have confidence in what they want out of life. It’s no coincidence that Midoriya recently experiences a crisis in this area and is momentarily unsure of what his future should bring. Midoriya’s ability to rise above Shinso’s manipulative quirk not only speaks to the resolve in his fighter’s spirit, but also that he’s finally internally reconciled his wandering thoughts and is prepared to fully accept his role as All Might’s replacement. My Hero Academia cleverly uses the quirks of this battle to deal with the larger issues that plague Midoriya.
The confidence that Midoriya receives from everyone that’s rooting for him, coupled with his One For All quirk, somehow cause him to rip himself from Shinso’s pull. Midoriya breaks his own fingers to pull his mind out of Shinso’s hypnotic hold, but Midoriya insists that he didn’t move his fingers, but rather that it was the collective forces of the people behind the power of One For All (a One For All Speed Force, if you will). This is a nice, touching development to how One For All works and the lore behind it. It’s interesting to think that generations down the line that Midoriya will also be part of this “One For All Speed Force” and may help some future hero move their fingers when they’re out of options.
Once Midoriya is free of Shinso’s mental hold on him, his takedown of him is just bad-ass. There’s such weight and power to it all! The way in which Midoriya throws down his opponent also calls back to how he defeats Bakugo. It’s nice to think that this may have developed into his finishing move when it comes to hand-to-hand combat. It’s perhaps not necessary that the episode makes this connection so explicit, but it still works and it’s a reinforcement of Midoriya’s growing capacity for battle..
The final moments of “Victory or Defeat” also continue to set Midoriya and Todoroki on parallel paths. Not only do they both share scenes with their de facto father figures, but the episode even carves away some time to feature Todoroki’s first fight in the finals, too. All Might has words of respect and encouragement for his protégé, whereas Endeavor just barks discipline and ultimatums at his “masterpiece.”
Todoroki’s fight against Hanta Sero follows quite the different trajectory as the battle that Midoriya just finished. Midoriya requires what’s essentially the entire episode to escape from Shinso’s hypnotic hold and Todoroki eliminates his opponents within seconds. It not only effectively freaks out Midoriya for the difficult battle that lies ahead, but it’s the perfect illustration of the different places that they’re at with their powers. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bakugo falls back into focus some time soon, but the increased focus on Midoriya’s rivalry with Todoroki and the generational feud between All-Might and Endeavor continues to work and provides a strong narrative drive for the back-end of the Sports Festival.
“Victory or Defeat” is a real winner of an episode that’s even stronger due to the added bond that Midoriya feels with Ojiro as he takes on Shinso. It’s a nice touch and it even helps him realize the collective weight on his shoulders and just how many people want him to win and are on his support team. Shinso’s flashback to how people have told him that his quirk is perfectly suited for a villain, yet he’s determined to not go down that path is also a significant, helpful scene. It’s even more powerful that it happens after Midoriya defeats him.
“Victory or Defeat” doesn’t want the audience to have any sympathy for Shinso during his fight and then afterwards they’re left wondering if Midoriya’s actions have maybe finally pushed him to the dark side. It’s a simple distinction, but it makes such a difference here. Thankfully, a sweet displays occurs when many spectators in the audience verbalize how much they love Shinso. It’s a testament to what a little positive reinforcement can accomplish.
This is ultimately a fun episode of My Hero Academia that does a lot of effective character work and is concerned with far more than just fleshing Midoriya out more. This all-around richer cast makes the installment have higher stakes. That, in combination with two strong fights—one cerebral and one of a physical nature—make this episode stand out. There are definitely going to be more important fights that come up in the finals of the Sports Festival, but by its conclusion, Midoriya versus Shinso will still likely be one of the most unique encounters.
Daniel Kurland is a published writer, comedian, and critic whose work can be read on Den of Geek, Vulture, Bloody Disgusting, and ScreenRant. Daniel knows that the owls are not what they seem, that Psycho II is better than the original, and he’s always game to discuss Space Dandy. His perma-neurotic thought process can be followed at @DanielKurlansky.